Monday, May 21, 2012

The Animal Kingdom: Tiger Rag

Original Dixieland Jass Band: Tiger Rag

For some reason, this post was out of place, requiring me to delete the original and repost.

In a couple of weeks it will be my 30th reunion at Princeton University, so “Tiger Rag” seemed like the right song for this week. The picture is my class’ logo; our theme is “30 Rocks,” which fits with my participation in this blog and the fact that I worked at WPRB for 3 and a half years. Also, Alec Baldwin’s character on the show “30 Rock,” Jack Donaghy, went to Princeton, and based on clues about his age, could have been in our class, if he were a real person. Fifteen years ago, our theme was “The XV Files,” in reference to David Duchovny, the star of The X Files, who is a real person, and a member of my class (but who I don’t believed showed up at the 15th). Princeton Reunions is a crazy experience that defies easy description. Alumni all wear costumes, the drinking is excessive, and it is a blast. Google it, and you will find embarrassing pictures, and news articles that try to do it justice, but can’t. My kids tease me that it is the only weekend when I am friendly to everybody. Which is probably true.

The tiger became the mascot of Princeton sometime in the 1800’s. In 1867, Princeton started to use orange as its color, in honor of William III, of the House of Nassau, who was Prince of Orange. The oldest building on campus, Nassau Hall, was named for William. Black lettering was used on orange ribbons, and by 1896, the official graduation gowns were orange and black, despite the fact that the official colors of the House of Nassau were orange and blue. Meaning that Princeton came close to being Syracuse. With orange and black the official colors, it wasn’t much of a leap to sportswriters referring to Princeton teams as “tigers”.

“Tiger Rag,” however was not written about Princeton (although my class's 25th reunion theme was Tiger Gras). Its origins are lost in the mists of history, but the original recording was by the Original Dixieland Jass Band in 1917 (that isn’t a typo, by the way). This version, recorded in 1918 by them, after they changed the spelling to “Jazz” was on the Victor label, and therefore has been available from RCA and later owners of the label for years. It has been recorded by everyone from Louis Armstrong, to Billie Holiday to Frank Sinatra to Django Reinhardt to Joe Jackson to Jeff Beck. It is the official fight song of Clemson University, another team of tigers, and I performed it regularly, and inexpertly but loudly, as a member of the Princeton University Marching Band, which has been in existence since 1919, and embarrassing the university since at least the 1950’s. (Quick unrelated aside—my good friend Steve was the drum major in 1981, and we were marching in the streets of Princeton after a football game. Steve was arrested for parading without a license, because we didn’t need no stinkin’ licenses.. New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne, a Princeton graduate, officially pardoned him. Saludo, Steve.)

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